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Culture – the “X Factor” for Building Back Better after Conflict and Disasters

MD Staff

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Culture is the foundation upon which cities are built.  Cities are not just a collection of buildings but are people, their stories, and how they interact with each other through their cultural identity and sense of place.

As seen when one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, the 16th-century Ottoman bridge Stari Most, or “Old Bridge”, was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War, local communities demanded and prioritized a full rebuilding of the original bridge with a message loud and clear: “A person killed is one of us; the Bridge is all of us.”

Subsequently, international efforts supported by UNESCO and the World Bank helped rebuild the Old Bridge and restore the Old City of Mostar. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the restored Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar attracts tourists from around the world, creating jobs and revitalizing the local economy.

With the shared conviction that culture is critical to achieve sustainable urban development and to ensure effective post-crisis reconstruction and recovery processes, a new World Bank – UNESCO Position Paper, Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery (CURE), was presented today at UNESCO Headquarters to propose an enhanced culture-based framework for city reconstruction and recovery that integrates both people-centered and place-based approaches.

Culture at the heart of people, spaces, and city recovery policies

Symbolizing the fundamental role culture plays in the recovery of a city’s physical, social, and economic fabrics from war and conflict, the story of Mostar is emblematic of today’s cities and communities worldwide.

“Culture is a key source of resilience, reconciliation, and social cohesion for cities and communities,” says Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. “As the partnership of UNESCO and the World Bank across the world told us, including in Haiti, Mali, Bosnia and Herzegovina, preserving culture is critical for post-crisis recovery and reconstruction processes.

As the world continues to urbanize at an unprecedented speed and scale, cities are increasingly bearing the brunt of conflicts, crises, and disasters. Natural hazards such as storms, floods, and earthquakes are becoming more intense and frequent, with a disproportionate impact on urban areas. Meanwhile, armed conflicts are becoming increasingly complex, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and causing widespread destruction in cities. Both are having a devastating effect on culture.

How can countries and cities best prepare themselves to effectively address increasing crises generated by acute urban distress?

Local contexts may vary, but successful policies must be both place-based as well as people-centered. While place-based strategies prioritize the reconstruction of physical assets, people-centered strategies can strengthen community ownership and social inclusion, improve livability of the built environment, and accelerate the socioeconomic recovery of cities.

At both the foundation and intersection of people and places lies the “X factor” of culture. Through cultural heritage and creativity, culture is essential as both an asset and a tool for city reconstruction and recovery. Without prioritizing culture, reconstruction processes can induce additional disruption of physical and social fabrics.

The CURE Framework

The CURE Framework provides guiding principles that integrate place-based and people-centered approaches through culture into sustainable urban development policies – to help cities effectively address the impact of urban crises.

“The CURE Framework marks an important milestone in the ongoing partnership between the World Bank and UNESCO to advance sustainable urban development by investing in culture, urban regeneration, and resilience in an integrated manner,” says Sameh Wahba, World Bank Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience.

The new framework and operational guidance takes policy-makers and practitioners through the planning, financing, and implementation process.  The CURE Framework highlights the foundational role of culture and emphasizes that effective city reconstruction and recovery programs require that culture be mainstreamed across the damage and needs assessments, as well as in policy and strategy setting, financing, and implementation. Finally, this collaborative effort recognizes that the integration of culture into post-crisis urban development and recovery can contribute substantially to making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The report draws upon global experience to demonstrate progress being made on the ground. Whether it is building a citizenship culture in Medellin, Colombia, to counterbalance the city’s violent past or fostering peace-building through transparency and community engagement in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, culture is the centerpiece.

Other experiences include post-earthquake cultural heritage conservation and recovery of the Old Town of Lijiang, China; promoting reconciliation through preservation of cultural heritage in Nicosia, Cyprus; and improving disaster risk management for the conservation of monuments in Bagan, Myanmar. In Iraq, the World Bank and UNESCO are preparing to collaborate on the rehabilitation of Mosul, building on the CURE Framework, as part of UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative and the World Bank’s Emergency Operation for Development project.

According to the position paper, culture as the foundation for recovery often begins with the physical reconstruction of iconic landmarks such as the Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina. At other times, the collective act of rebuilding shared heritage is the impetus for community rebirth, such as the post-conflict reconstruction process of religious and cultural sites in Timbuktu, Mali. Furthermore, Tokyo, Japan, demonstrates how a cultural construct approach, coupled with innovative land readjustment mechanisms, results in a resilient city that flourishes against many considerable odds. In the report, examples of Seoul, Republic of Korea, and Beirut, Lebanon, demonstrate that recovery without culture must eventually be adjusted to achieve sustainable results.

By adopting the CURE Framework, national and local leaders will be able to place culture at the heart of their own city reconstruction and recovery processes in the face of crises – whether they are disasters, armed conflicts, or urban distress situations – to build inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities for all, which is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity at the local, regional, and national levels.

World Bank

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Remembering legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Exactly in August 2009, legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who created the Afrobeat along with his old bandmate Fela Kuti, and I had our first historical meeting in Paris, France. I had flown in from Shanghai, China, to meet with him for an informal encounter. Despite our heavy working schedules and limited time, the meeting lasted for about two hours. During the discussions, I asked him several questions about his professional musical career and life. In fact, he was extremely passionate and enthusiastic talking with me, and to remember him here are a few excerpts:

When did you begin your musical career and who are your favorite musicians?

My career started at the age of 20.  In fact, I was hired by Sir Victor Olaiya to play claves with his highlife band, “the Cool Cats” and was able to fill the drum-set chair when the former Cool Cats drummer left the band. I also played with Agu Norris and the Heatwaves, the Nigerian Messengers and the Melody Makers.

In 1964, I joined Fela’s ‘Koola Lobitos’ and stayed with Fela for 15 years. When I was learning to play I’d check out LPs and magazine tutorials by Gene Krupa, Art Blakey and Max Roach, Guy Warren was also an influence. Of course, I was also a fan of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Bernard Purdie.

I was asked to name my dream band to play with, and I chose: Oumou Sangare and Salif Keita on vocals, Bootsy Collins on bass, George Benson on guitar, Wayne Shorter on sax, Joe Zawinul on keys, Don Cherry on trumpet, and with a line-up like that I’d have to be the drummer!

What was the motivation behind your chose profession?

My parents were…not keen. Back then, musicians were more or less thought of as beggars, or worse. But I just put it in front of them. I was an electrical technician, but I wanted to make a change. My mother was never happy about it, but my father, who was an amateur musician, eventually agreed.

How is this profession influencing or shaping your own social life?

It has had a profound effect.  Our albums with Afrika 70 either provoked or described a series of increasingly brutal attacks by the Nigerian army and police. Fela and his immediate family bore the brunt of this long and shameful catalogue of assaults, trumped up charges and jailings, and I myself was jailed on one occasion.  With Fela it was like being at university, and you don’t run away from education. We learnt so much by not being cowards.

When I left Fela’s band that had a big effect on my life.  Lagos was too small for me and Fela. It was a small place, and I wanted room to take off without causing competition, I eventually chose Paris partly because the British immigration people were giving me difficulties, but also because African music was more happening then in Paris than in London, and my record company at the time was in France. It was the only place I felt I could exercise my knowledge. The only place to make a living. Being a musician, the line between work and social life is, often blurred doing what I do for a living is what I do for enjoyment.

There seems to be some truthfulness in your career. Which songs spiritually appeal most to you personally when on stage?

Absolutely, as a musician and an artist you have to be true to yourself. Different songs appeal to me more at different times and under different circumstances, it can depend on who you’re playing with, where you’re playing and how the audience respond to what you’re playing. Playing music is very spiritual but I won’t say that one thing I do is more spiritual than another as I try to invest all in everything that I do.

Of what importance are the messages you convey through your songs to our society, in your interpretation?

Afrobeat has always been about the struggle, then and now. Fela was right about everything, especially the messages in all his songs.  Everything he sang about is still happening. Nigeria’s not getting any better. It’s all misadministration and corruption, survival of the fittest. Lagos is a complete mother ****** of a place. These messages we send to the government, they never listen to them. The people wait for an effect, but there’s no effect. These guys do nothing. Afrobeat is rebellious music. We have to keep shouting.

Do you mind talking about your experiences (both positive and negative) in previous European tours?

Laughs! I don’t mind at all but this is a big question that I’m not sure how to answer.  The fact is that the good experiences overwhelmingly outweigh the bad, which is why I’m still out on tour at nearly 70 years old. As long as people want to come and see me play, I’ll play.

How do you usually visualize your audience during musical performances?

I am very pleased to have had the chance to play at many festivals abroad. The foreign people know all about social and political upheaval, so even though our cultures and heritage are completely different, they feel the power of Afrobeat and confirm my belief that music is the great healer in the world. It was a long musical trip, there is no way back but well worth it. You just don’t have to return, I have to move forward!

Many people think going into musical world is just to make quick money. What is your reaction to this?

Ha! Most musicians are struggling musicians only a small minority make serious money, musicians all around the world play for the love of it, to express themselves creatively and for the interaction with the audience. A lucky few might make millions but you can’t judge everyone else on that basis, lawyers, accountants, bankers, those guys make the serious money. Also, those motivated by money don’t make as good music, if your inspiration isn’t true, then it shines through in music.

Would you have opted out of stage if you were offered an alternative job? Not all, as I said earlier, I had job which I left in order to be a musician, that wa almost 50 years ago and I am still in it. I think I made the right decision.

If you could have lunch with anyone, real or fictional, alive or dead, who would it be and what is the first thing you would ask him or her?

It’s impossible to pick one single person, there are loved ones that would be great to see one more time, but musically the most obvious person would be Fela Kuti, and I’d ask him if he’s happy with what’s happened to the music that we created together.

What are your goals for the coming years?

I want to keep on doing what I do, improving and doing new things.  I’m very happy with my band and our new album, we can do great things together.  I’m very fortunate that I get the opportunities to work with all manner of artists doing different and interesting projects, long may it continue.

Music is my mission. I never get satisfied and I’m still learning from others. The musical world is very spiritual, and I don’t think there’s an end to it. The best legacy is your professional work and leaving an indelible mark on the minds of people.

Additional information: Agence France Press (AFP) wrote that Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa ‘70 in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, the pair created afrobeat, combining West African musical styles such as highlife and Fuji music with American imports jazz and funk. Afrobeat went on to become one of the totemic genres of 20th century African music.

Over Allen’s thrilling beat, Fela laid out his revolutionary and pan-African message, which led him to become one of the abiding icons of the struggle for freedom across the continent. Allen and Fela recorded around 40 albums together in Africa ‘70, before parting ways after a mythic 26-year collaboration. Such was the hole that Allen left in his band, Fela needed four drummers to replace him.

Allen taught himself to play drums from the age of 18, drawing inspiration from American jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as well as contemporary African music. He remained hugely influential and beloved by generations of musicians.

British musician and producer Brian Eno has called Allen “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived.” Allen was the drummer in the supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen, also featuring Blur singer Damon Albarn and The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, which released its second album in 2018. Tony Allen died suddenly at the age of 79 in the Paris suburb Courbevoie, France.

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5th Anniversary Celebrations of Establishment of China Cultural Center in Pakistan

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April 20th 2020 marks its fifth anniversary celebration of China Cultural Center in Pakistan.  On this special day 5 years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping on a state visit to Pakistan together with Pakistani former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif jointly unveiled China Cultural Center in Pakistan on 5 April 2015 at the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Office in Islamabad. 

China Cultural Center in Pakistan officially launched and began its operation Islamabad of Pakistan ever since.

In order to fight the epidemic and convey confidence and determination to overcome the Covid-19, China Cultural Center in Pakistan has launched online celebrations on Facebook. Visiting China Online series of activities include five online photo exhibitions, “Our Silk Road”, “World Cultural Heritage in China”, “The Ancient Silk Road State of Kucha”, “Beautiful China”, “Celebrating in Harmony and Joy – Chinese Spring Festival Photo Exhibition” and documentary series  “Beautiful China”, “China Beyond Your Imagination”, and “One Belt One Road – People to People Connectivity”.

The establishment of the China Cultural Center in Pakistan is an important symbol of the further deepening of bilateral relations between China and Pakistan. Center’s aim and objective is to strengthen cultural exchanges and cooperation between China and Pakistan and enhance mutual understanding and friendship between the people of two countries. Since its establishment in Pakistan, China Cultural Center has actively organized various types of cultural activities i.e., cultural performances, visual arts exhibitions, film festivals, film shows, teaching, training, lectures, seminars and other different cultural activities.

China Cultural Center in Pakistan has organized 26 grand exhibitions in the past such as “China-Pakistan Friendship Photo Exhibition”, “Beautiful China Photo Exhibition”, “Belt and Road  in My Eyes, A Pakistani Students’ Poster Competition” attracting more than 20,000 visitors.  To celebrate Chinese New Year, more than 30 grand cultural performances such as the “70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China”, “65th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between China and Pakistan”, and “Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival” gala performance for more than 100000 audience. Training workshops such as Chinese Martial Arts, Chinese Culinary Art, and Chinese Paper Cutting attracted more than 3,000 people. China Cultural Center has participated in eighth and ninth Pakistan National Book Festival in Islamabad, Pakistan and displayed Chinese cultural elements by setting up booth attracting Pakistani people from different walks of life. President of Pakistan Dr. Arif Alvi also visited China Cultural Center’s booth and highly praised the friendship between China and Pakistan. These two National Book Festivals attracted more than 500,000 people. 

With collaboration of different universities and educational institutions, China Cultural Center also held a series of “Happy Chinese New Year” activities, lectures on “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, “Belt and Road” and Chinese-Western Art Exchange” and other relevant topics to effectively provide interactional exchange between students and teachers of universities. The “China Film Festival and Film Conference” held in August 2019 opened a new chapter in the exchange and cooperation between film industry of China and Pakistan.

China Cultural Center in Pakistan will comprehensively utilize all the humanity resources in the future to showcase Chinese history, culture and stories, promote traditional and contemporary Chinese culture, tourism,  intangible culture and will continue to make relentless efforts for a new chapter of China-Pakistan friendship.

China-Pakialstan Dosti Zindabad!

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Even during COVID-19, art ‘brings us closer together than ever’

Newsroom

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With billions of people either in lockdown or on the front lines battling the COVID-19 pandemic, this first celebration of World Art Day is a timely reminder that “art has the power to unite and connect in times of crisis”, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on Wednesday.

“Bringing people together, inspiring, soothing and sharing: these are the powers of art, the importance of which has been made emphatically obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic”, Audrey Azoulay said in her message.

Throughout self-isolation, art has nonetheless been flourishing. Pointing to peformers tapping into their creativity to relay health guidelines and share messages of hope – as well as neighbours singing to each other on balconies, and concerts online – Ms. Azoulay maintained that creativity abounds. 

And the Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous masterpiece, the anniversary of whose birth, on 15 April, has been chosen for the World Day – has been revisited in a variety of ways, including images of her self-isolating in the Louvre Museum, or covering her enigmatic smile with a surgical mask. 

“This is how, despite the crisis, art is demonstrating its resilience today”, explained the UNESCO chief.

Paying tribute to the solidarity shown by artists and institutions at a time when “art  is suffering the full force of the effects of a global health, economic and social crisis”, she flagged that this time of confinement can also be “a period of openness to others and to culture, to strengthen the links between artistic creation and society”.

Through the hashtag #ShareCulture, UNESCO has invited everyone to communicate their love of art by sharing it broadly.

‘ResiliArt’ movement

The coronavirus pandemic has closed museums and cancelled concerts, plunging many cultural institutions into uncertainty and immediate financial loss while also threatening a long-term effect on the arts. 

As the world waits for the current measures to be lifted, vulnerable groups who are unable to get online, exacerbating a global digital divide, have even greater difficulty in gaining access. 

Keeping art alive requires the twofold approach of supporting cultural professionals and institutions, and promoting access to art for all, according to Ms. Azoulay. 

As these challenges require far-reaching cultural policies it will be necessary to “listen to the voices of the artistic world in their globality and diversity”, she stressed.

With the aim of affirming the resilience of art in during this difficult period and in preparing for the future, UNESCO has launched the “ResiliArt” movement, which, among other things, will consist of a series of global virtual debates with renowned artists and draw support for the cultural world throughout the crisis. 

And looking forward, guidelines will be drawn up on improving the protection of artists for future crises.

The UNESCO chief urged everyone to participate in “this strong impetus for culture” to prove that even in a period of personal distancing, “art brings us closer together than ever before”.

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